Mexico’s fight against its national emergency Ruthless Criticism

Mexico’s fight against its national emergency:
The USA’s poster country in Latin America struggles to be a “success model”

[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 2-2009]

Since the inauguration of Mexico’s President Calderón, news about “unsustainable” conditions in America’s partner state to the south has become more frequent: “Mexico is stuck in the war on drugs,” “helpless against crime” – that’s what the headlines say. According to the relevant agencies, daily life is increasingly defined by the drug cartels with their business operations, violence and corruption, murder and kidnappings. While the government wages a “war against organized crime” and has now sent tens of thousands of soldiers into the most threatened states, the drug cartels command respect with brute force. Moreover, they fight each other in bloody battles. Besides that, one learns, hundreds of thousands of “economic refugees” from Mexico and the rest of Central and Latin America are illegally swarming through Mexico into the USA and creating an intolerable situation, especially in the border states.

Evidently, the government of Mexico is not only dealing with ordinary public disturbances, the normal levels of crime in a functioning capitalist society, or sporadic attacks on the representatives and institutions of state authority. In the form of the drug cartels, it is confronted by a counter-power that thwarts and subverts the state’s command over domestic affairs. Also, the government not only has the dregs of poverty to supervise; it wrestles to control growing dispossessed masses who are flooding in or out of the country and turning into a headache for state order. So Mexico’s government does not have a firm grip on its country overall. It now rules over conditions of crisis and war. The power wielded by the state leaders and their ability to steer social affairs with their political will is in doubt. The monopoly of violence as such, the taken-for-granted validity and universal acceptance of state authority in the country are being called into question, partly suspended in practice, partly openly or covertly opposed.

This precarious situation which the Mexican state is trying to master is the consequence of the road to success prescribed by Mexico’s leaders for the growth of the nation’s power: it is the result of the ruling elite’s program of promoting its own rule by an especially close connection to the USA and making up for its lack of capitalistic potency by giving American capital free reign to use the country.

The Mexican success model: National advancement via international capital inflows – in alliance with the US

Mexico ranks in the group of “emerging markets,” countries which experts say once pursued mistaken policies because they squandered foreign loans and foreign exchange earnings on “unprofitable national development projects” and “costly social programs,” but have now come to reason. This consists in aligning their national economic and financial policies with the requirements of the international capital agencies, operating budgetary policies in coordination with the I.M.F., cutting back social expenses, and making their country's economic development generally dependent on the interests and business needs of foreign capital. Mexico is widely acknowledged to have led the way in an exemplary manner since the 1980s and to have made decisive progress by its close economic ties to the American market with the NAFTA treaty concluded in 1994. [1] The centerpiece of economic relations between the US and Mexico not only includes the repeal of virtually all tariffs and trade restrictions, but goes beyond a “classic” free trade agreement: with its agreements on financial services, rules on intellectual property protection and public procurement, it guarantees that the free movement of American enterprise is unrestricted either in cross border trade or in capital flows.

US capital has made ample use of this offer, so a growing part of American business makes a living at a Mexican address: US products have massively conquered the Mexican market due to the superior productivity of US capital; North American companies make thorough use of the ruthless management of human labor and natural resources which are permitted to cross the border; the so-called maquiladora industries [2] function either as suppliers or directly under American management as tax- and tariff-free cheap wage divisions of American textile and electronics production. Furthermore, US capital is invested in every conceivable business and infrastructure project in Mexico, which American financial power is free to access thanks to the privatization policy of the last twenty years. All in all, Mexico is successfully recast as a production site and market for American goods as well as an investment sphere for dollar capital and loans, and to that extent it represents nothing more than an extended sphere of American capital growth. [3] And in its wake, European capital is also increasingly active in the country, supplying the North American market in particular from this cheap location.

This is how Mexico has been promoted to the status of a leading “emerging market.” Under the guidance of international financial supervision and with the help of a safe debt policy supervised by the US Treasury, the country has become a preferred object of speculative foreign money capital. In this respect, it stands or falls with the trends in confidence that foreign monetary investors give or take away from the country and with the special interest that Washington shows the location as a solid part of the dollar’s credit sphere. [4]

The hoped-for development of a basis for a national business that brings Mexico enough dollars to certify its state credit and that supplies the vast majority of the workforce with productive capitalist exploitation as cheap wage labor has not come about. Even today, oil revenue is the largest foreign exchange earner, apart from remittances from the millions of Mexicans abroad and migrant workers in the US The boost from the “maquiladora” industries has remained limited, the hoped-for fastening of the rest of the economy to the “extended workbench” of the US has failed to materialize. In addition, Mexico as a cheap wage location faces increased competition; when it comes to low wages and freedom for capital in terms of labor and environmental standards, other states are still on the scene, most notably China. Mexico, with its capitalistic incomes as well as with its restrictions, is therefore little more than an appendage of the US economy, with limits to its own means of competition. Its main source of wealth being the oil business, it is subordinated to growth in the capitalist centers as a mere supplier of raw materials instead of this business serving as a lubricant for a national capital accumulation. And the dollars of the working emigrants, as well as the business pursued on the Mexican location by dollar- and euro-capitalists, are not enough to develop the country into an adequate capital location. [5] Just the opposite.

The “dark side” of progress: ruined livelihoods, alternative business and competing private force – a growing national emergency

This Mexican progress program, with the NAFTA annexation to the US economy, more free trade agreements with the E.U., a liberal concession practice, extensive “deregulation” and budgetary restrictions as an “economic test case” and “successful structural adjustment program model” in Latin America – with built-in guarantees for growth and stability, as it were – has surely brought about access to international capital and in that respect a growth in Mexico; but at the same time it has also produced ruinous effects for most of the Mexican economy because it doesn’t represent any capital that is competitive on the world market – this was in fact the country’s original problem. Whole sectors of domestic production have declined in the wake of the market opening – especially in agriculture. The opening of the Mexican market to agricultural products agreed to within the framework of NAFTA, the elimination of guaranteed prices for agricultural products as well as the repeal of the so-called inalienable “ejidos” – federal state land holdings distributed free of charge to local peasants – has exposed domestic agriculture to competition primarily with the agricultural capital of the US and deprived the peasant population of land. This has destroyed incomes and means of subsistence on a large scale without opening up any prospect of an existence as wage labor, no matter how paltry, to the newly free campesinos. The limited capitalistic growth was already producing more than enough of a surplus population in the country. The ruthless conversion of nationally cultivated land into renewable energy resources pursuant to the world market calculations of the agricultural multinationals has also led to a slump in national food production and, in the wake of this, to price increases and endangerment of the food supply of large parts of the population.

The flip side of Mexico's transformation into a limited sphere of international capital growth is therefore, alongside much of the national economy’s destruction without replacement, the sudden growth of overpopulation, those who do not provide any useful service, who therefore have no chance of a material livelihood. A growing part of the people drop out of their already precarious existence into absolute poverty.

The desired national progress in terms of capital growth, and with it profitable employment, has not materialized. Instead, alternative businesses and modes of existence outside the state-desired but limited spheres of profitable wealth production have taken an upswing, which is again owed to the US: its need for cheap labor and its flourishing drug market.

The destitute population not only swells the slums, but on a massive scale seeks in the motherland of capitalism a basic existence, no matter how miserable, that is not offered domestically. Along with the paupers from Central America who have also been sacrificed to the free market mode of calculating and who use Mexico as a transit country, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans every year choose the risky journey north – and also find mass admission there as migrant and day laborers. As the majority of illegal immigrants in the United States, they form the pool of a randomly available cheap labor force with no rights; they relieve their native country and even decisively improve its foreign exchange balance with their remittances. On the one hand, this is a windfall for a state that can’t count on any productive service from its people in their own country, so it mostly registers them as an unproductive burden and treats them with the appropriate ruthlessness. That’s why these masses with their uncontrolled movements are a surveillance problem for the state, but at the same time one of order, especially since much of the impoverished population have also seized opportunities for life and survival under these circumstances within the country that are beyond state control.

Following Mexico’s closer political-economic ties to the US, drug cultivation in Mexico has abruptly increased and turned the country into a major drug trafficking hub. The US is not only the largest sales market, it is also the business headquarters of this illegal – therefore, according to the capitalistic mode of calculation, especially lucrative – business. Mexico’s drug cartels operate virtually as branch offices of the American drug trade in especially favorable proximity to the US They make use of the location advantage which results from the integrated market and geographic position. And at the same time they are beneficiaries of the widespread impoverishment of the population: for drug cultivation and trafficking, they exploit the huge reservoir of impoverished peasants and other Mexicans with no means of existence who, faced with their situation, do not shun the risks of illicit cultivation and other services for the cartels. [6]

The activities of the drug cartels on Mexican territory are driven in particular by Washington’s “war on drugs” in the southern countries of the continent. The US government pursues its fight against the state-incriminated business not only, and not even primarily, as a prosecution of domestic “business people” and consumers through the justice system; rather, Washington treats this battle as a question of imperialistic order and insists with all the means available to a world power that “drug transit and cultivation countries” adopt its view of the drug problem: they should stop drug cultivation in their countries, destroy the relevant areas under cultivation, pursue the drug bosses and extradite them to the US even if drug cultivation and trafficking seem to these nations by no means purely a matter of organized crime. Because of these efforts, imposed by the USA, to eliminate the “drug swamp” in Latin America, the drug cartels have continually shifted their commercial centers over the years and decades – from Bolivia and Peru to Colombia and Central America; now Mexico has become the central hub.

In Mexico the drug mafia has become a dangerous force whose economic networks and organized private violence have established a kind of counter-power within the state. The drug cartels have used the dollars earned through drug trafficking to develop more illegal spheres of business, running extensive arms smuggling operations, extorting protection money with threats and terror, and organizing an actual “kidnapping industry.” They have long latched onto official business life. [7] As an ever-present power in every area of the society, they provide an ambiguous substitute for the missing achievements of the domestic business world and the public authority: they create incomes where legal sources do not exist, cleanse the illegal money in public tills, and operate as social sponsors as well as commanders of their own “police forces” which back up the voluntary cooperation of public officials such as the police, judiciary and politicians with bribery, threats and “punitive actions.” With the combination of money-power and private force, the drug mafia doesn’t merely represent an annoyance to a monopoly on violence that is functional in principle, but an alternative ruling power over broad swathes of the society in competition with the state power. At the same time, they ruthlessly and ostentatiously bring their bitter war of rivalry in money and power into public space. With their organized private power, the cartels undermine the state’s monopoly on violence, revealing the relative powerlessness of the state, the disintegration of domestic order and its institutions, exploiting the ruined reproduction of the masses and bringing the state to the point of collapse at the same time.

In addition, organized political resistance has stirred in view of the disastrous social consequences of the NAFTA annexation. Various guerrilla groups fight against “neoliberal,” “America-enslaved” politics as well as against the everyday brutalities, particularly against the rural and Indian populations, and in some regions contest the authority of the state. [8]

The Mexican president rises to the challenge: establish order by force!

After taking office at the end of 2006, President Calderón leaves no doubt that he draws from this decomposition of state power the task of straightening up the interior. A new political-economic orientation, say, an alternative program to improve the position of the people and nation such as leftist governments in Latin America had in recent years taken as a practical conclusion from the increasing impoverishment of their people and the breakdown of domestic conditions, was out of the question for his government. The ups and downs of Mexico’s success stand or fall with Mexico proving itself a special zone of dollar capitalism and an investment location for international capital geared to its needs. So the President can see the domestic situation in only one way: he views the consequences of the Mexican path to progress in reverse, as causes of the lack of progress on this path and as its jeopardizing: disruptive forces challenge the state-guaranteed order, undermine internal security and the state’s command over national affairs, and in this respect threaten its achieved status as an “emerging market” which the state must face with the appropriate rigor. [9] Calderón’s program was therefore about “restoring Mexico’s sovereignty on its territory and not losing important parts of Mexico to organized crime ... It is a war to which there is no alternative. It will probably take longer than my tenure.” (Calderón, in an interview quoted in Handelsblatt, March 24, 2007).

As the top national politician, Calderón thus wanted the deployment of state force to confront internal threats to the state’s sovereignty whose real cause lie in Mexico’s foreign relations. He promised his own power would restore supremacy over a country whose sources of wealth and state power, as well as their restrictions, are a product of the country's functionalization to the wealth and power of the USA, which the President didn’t want to agitate – in fact he resolutely relied on it.

The foreign guidelines for the Mexican struggle for internal security: Washington’s extensive demands for order

By reconquering the power which Mexico’s leaders with all their national development efforts want to functionalize for themselves, this fight for national sovereignty internally was therefore at the same time aimed at outside recognition. With his decision to proceed against the spreading disorder and organized private violence in the country, the Mexican President responded to the USA’s increasing criticism of Mexico. From the beginning and increasingly after 9/11, the Bush administration demanded that Mexico forcefully straighten up these conditions, and cared just as little as its predecessors about the difficulties and calculations of the Mexican side. For American politicians, the consequences of the Mexican connection to the US seem a fundamental violation of the American right to orderly state relations which Washington can simply expect of other countries – especially of a neighbor and partner state regarded as having a lot of special rights and special freedoms. With the ignorance of superior power, Washington therefore insists that the Mexican government get the annoying consequences of its ties to the US under control so that they no longer annoy the USA

This is firstly about the growing power of the Mexican drug cartels. For the imperialistic sheriffs in Washington, this confirms that the drug mess in Latin America is far from being cleaned up and that the “war on drugs” should therefore press ahead unconditionally, continentally, and certainly in the neighboring state of Mexico; the menace there intensifies because the drug cartels increasingly “spread” from Mexico to the United States – this is the American view of an incriminated business whose origin and destination point lies in the USA:

“Over the past decade, drug trafficking and other criminal organizations have grown in size and strength, aggressively seeking to undermine and intimidate government institutions in Mexico and Central America, compromising municipal and state law enforcement entities, and substantially weakening these governments’ ability to maintain public security and expand the rule of law … The effects of this growing problem are also readily apparent in the United States in the form of gang violence, crime, and higher rates of trafficking in persons and illegal drugs – all of which threaten our own national security and impose mounting economic costs.” (Thomas A. Shannon, former Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs) [10]

This is secondly about the Mexican and Central American immigrants crossing the border. On the one hand, their illegal status makes them a particularly suitable economic pawn for American agriculture as a cheap labor force. At the same time, however, there are still too many of them; they come even if they might not be needed, circumvent state control, find their way across the border regardless of surveillance – in short: they do not acquiesce to the role of a demand-based, state-supervised cheap wage reserve, but make their presence felt with their wretched choices as a problem for state order. In addition, the border regime also leaves much to be desired on the other side. Washington announces that Mexico increasingly functions as a trade center for laundering the millions of dollars acquired by drug trafficking to the US and arms smuggling from the US

All this annoyed Washington even more since it named the global threat of terrorism as the crucial new challenge to American world power. The anti-terror war honed their view of domestic order in the Latin America states and Mexico in particular. US intelligence agencies suddenly discovered that guerrilla organizations and potential terrorists are collaborating with organized crime all over the place, using the smuggling routes and infrastructure of the drug cartels and, vice versa, performing useful services for them, so that “throughout the hemisphere, terrorist groups, insurgents and drug traffickers arrive through illegal trade, robbery and smuggling weapons” (Shannon, February 11, 2008). In the US version, Mexico “is now definitely in the phase of narcoterrorism” (US Department of Justice, El Pais, May 23, 2008). In any case – with this connection the US government defines drug trafficking, illegal immigrants, money laundering, arms smuggling and political resistance as one and the same: as an undermining of American statehood and as an elementary threat to America’s national security. Ironically, the southern neighbor, flagship partner in the case for free trade and significant business sphere for American capital and credit, threatens to become a “threat to prosperity” and a “bastion of instability,” a gateway for “anti-American activities,” and neglects to perform its services in a time of global war against terrorism as a stable pro-American bastion and bulwark against leftist machinations in Latin America.

In Washington’s eyes, there’s only one reason for the escalation of this annoying state of affairs in Mexico: Mexican politicians fail to crack down. And this is again instructive – thus the obvious conclusion of the world power – that there is a lack of American control over Mexico. Whatever calculations the local administrators carry out in regard to the situation in the country, they are challenged to prove themselves guarantors of a stable statehood, to recapture the “lawless areas” on their territory, and to stop the stream of money, goods and people as well as all the other intrigues which Washington sees as a threat to its national security. Only in this way can the national administrators of this special zone of dollar capitalism count on the recognition of the USA. The US government for its part is challenged to intensify its concern that Mexican politicians take over and complete this order with the requisite ruthlessness.

The struggle against “organized crime” – with the backing of the USA

This increasing American criticism was taken into account by the Mexican President with his program for order; after all, he wanted to safeguard his country’s role as America’s preferred partner in Latin America. With his mission to free up the state in the interior, he contended at the same time with the US demands. His decision to once and for all clean up the country and to reconquer political power with a domestic “war against organized crime” was a result of his desire to take the offensive against the USA’s reservations. He wanted his program for a national struggle to prove his determination and ability to satisfy America’s need for order as a sovereign partner. The Mexican government’s affliction from its own wounded sovereignty and the necessity to take the Americans’ discontent into account coincided here and spurred its assertiveness. Conversely, it insisted on its demand that Washington support these efforts to restore order and accommodate Mexican demands. Mexico’s chief of state wanted to mobilize the power of the USA for his battle. With American help, he wanted to surmount the Mexican state’s weakened monopoly on violence. This is how he wanted to fix the problem that national affairs fail to yield a source of stable state power and the resources necessary for the fight to consolidate state power.

As far as the containment of migration was concerned, Calderón seamlessly took up the program that had already been long underway at American insistence and was expedited after September 2001 in cooperation with Washington. His predecessors were already not unreceptive to the American request to treat migrants as a threat to the national security of the northern neighbor rather than as a foreign currency earner for Mexico or as a potential disturbance in the interior that it is happy to get rid of. With financial and material support from Washington, Mexico then seals an ever-tightening control regime on its northern and southern borders and develops into a jointly controlled, extended security zone of the United States.

This border regime is aimed not only at unwanted border crossings by starvelings, but also at defending the US from all the dangers from the south it has identified and wants stopped. [11] At the top of the list of political tasks for the Mexican president, as for the USA, is the “fight against organized crime” of drug trafficking. Because it had increased, and because of the growing American pressure, Calderón was certain that the calculating way Mexico’s old political regime dealt with this national problem – more or less openly tolerating it and unofficial arrangements between the politicians and the drug organizations – were no longer supportable. Previously, state agencies had been full of mafia-dependent characters who pursued contradictory interests: not allowing the power of the drug cartels to turn into an open threat to their sovereignty, but on the other hand not stirring them up with a too rigorous state approach. Officially, they were certainly willing to support American pressure for tougher action, but at the same time they circumvented US demands or ostentatiously rejected American intervention into their sovereignty.

This maneuvering had to stop. Still in the first month of office, Calderón sent thirty thousand soldiers marching into numerous states to dig up drug labs and set marijuana and poppy fields on fire. To dry out the “swamp of corruption” and make the fight against organized crime effective, whole security departments were purged; high-up political representatives of federal and tax police as well as state police chiefs were suspended from their posts, investigations into drug murders were started which transferred police taks to the military; federal police recruitment from the military was correspondingly increased and their salaries raised. To secure financing for the law and order program, the President requested a billion dollars to combat organized crime. And with the demonstrative extradition of fifteen drug lords to the United States accompanied by a request for American money and means of violence, he demonstrated his willingness to cooperate with Washington’s goals and to withdraw any of the traditional reservations about national sovereignty. However, he called in return for, first, material support in the fight against “narco-terrorism” and, second, political accommodation from the United States in settling contentious issues of immigration.

The assistance of the United States – promoting and demanding an ass-kicking Mexican state force

Washington is interested only in the former and concluded an agreement with the Mexican government, the “Merida Initiative”:

“In Mexico, President Calderón has acted decisively, using the most effective tools at his disposal. He is reorganizing the federal police, putting new and additional resources in the hands of his security services, deploying military units to support police operations, rooting out corrupt officials, attacking impunity, arresting major crime figures, and extraditing a record number of drug kingpins and other criminals to the United States. The determination and commitment shown by the Calderón Administration is historic; and the early results impressive … However, President Calderón has recognized that leadership and political will are not enough; he needs greater institutional and material resources to ensure both nearterm success and long-term institutional change. In an unprecedented step, he has asked the United States to launch a new partnership with Mexico and to help him strengthen Mexican law enforcement, public safety, and border security to defeat the drug and criminal organizations. This is not a 'traditional' foreign assistance request. It is, as our joint declaration called it, a new paradigm for security cooperation.” (Shannon, Testimony Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, November 14, 2007)

The US representative leaves no doubt that the negotiated agreement should guarantee its security needs in Mexico. What the framework of the “Mérida Initiative” stipulates as a “new paradigm” for security and stability assistance comprises primarily of military equipment in the form of aircraft, helicopters, and training for Mexican police and military forces, as well as communication and surveillance technology to “obtain timely information needed to combat criminal and terrorist activities and to ward off those who want to exploit the national weaknesses of the USA and Mexico.” It is in fact a real state-to-state development aid program: aimed solely at the goal of training the Mexican government to attack the drug cartels, monitor the border and defend America against any threat to its security. In this sense, the Mexican foreign minister confirms that “the so-called Merida initiative intends not only joint operations against drug trafficking, but also the objective of protecting the United States from potential terrorist attacks, and therefore the resources made available by the US to Mexico also provide for the purchase of equipment to control emigration movements on both sides of the border.” (La Jornada, November 2007) With proper training as well as material and logistical support from the United States, the Mexican military apparatus is to become competent and at the same time determined to fulfill the comprehensive US order – a mixture of military support and practical distrust of the resolve and ability of the Mexican partner on the side of the superpower. It takes advantage of its superior means of force and policing to boost the relevant Mexican struggle – a welcome strategic gain. [12] For the partner state, this aid in the fight for an orderly monopoly on violence means more subordination under US demands. [13]

The Mexican “success model” progresses in the direction of a “failed state”: escalating violence – and growing discontent with the disintegration of the Mexican state

The results of this fight against “organized crime” and its “mess” have done little to bring about “stability.” Instead, the American-supported effort to eliminate the troubling activities and clean up conditions in the country turns out to be a violent struggle to regain the state’s control over the country. To the extent that government leaders make this a serious fight for a functional force monopoly, they attack the state’s own foundations and stir up the nation. The struggle for order in the country contributes to the corrosion of domestic affairs which it wants to consolidate in a way useful to rule.

The ever more rigorous border regime hinders the efforts of the impoverished masses to escape the unbearable conditions at home with the consequence that a growing number of slums are populated in Mexico and other Latin American countries and an important source of foreign currency dries up for the state: the remittances from those who have made it to America and a job. The rest is done by the financial crisis which decreases America’s demand for foreign cheap labor, causing the surplus population in Mexico to suddenly swell. Washington continues to reject the trade-off that Mexico demands and the United States promises – a guest-worker program as well as the legalization of 5 million Mexicans living illegally in the US by which these problem cases for Mexico should become regulated by agreement and thus a predictable frontier settlement – by referring to Mexico’s insufficient “outlays.” And with the destruction of drug crops, the government also destroys the sole, miserable basis of existence of a good part of the rural population.

With its offensive against the drug cartels, the state tangles with an enemy which organizes and controls whole sectors of economic and social life and has long been involved in “legitimate” business and banking; is firmly rooted in the people, in large parts of the bourgeoisie, and especially in the state apparatus; but its crucial basis, the US drug market and its agents, is beyond the access of the Mexican authorities. Insofar as the state intends to move against the “drug economy,” it simultaneously threatens to incalculably damage the national economy itself, with no new productive system on the horizon to replace it. The state’s actions are thus defined by the irresolvable contradiction of wanting to curb drug cultivation and trafficking but avoid large-scale disruption and destruction of the country’s business motor. Therefore, the economic bases of the competing private powers survive in the country despite spectacular actions like the destruction of cultivated poppy fields and the factories that process it. And so the financial currents also continue to flow. These cash and book moneys – freshly laundered in the USA and elsewhere – are not neatly distinguishable as clean from “tidier” bank transactions in “clean” businesses anyway – especially in a situation where the greater part of business takes place as a “black market” and “informal sector,” thus completely outside state control and requirements, and even the “formal sector” does business under special state terms, political protection, and systematic exemption from all sorts of consequences – not only in regard to working conditions and the environment, but also in regard to taxes, profits and money transactions. The state’s anti-drug war is then also run mainly as an extensive drug search, hence stopping drug shipments and arresting relevant figures all the way up to the drug barons, as well as curbing the political influence of the gangs. This pursuit of organized crime, involving a permanent deployment of the judiciary and the police, necessarily sets in motion a bloody showdown. The drug organizations respond to the state’s challenge with a declaration of war, setting up and wiping out increasing numbers of “traitors” in the police, judiciary and other state circles, thus serving notice to anyone who takes the wrong side in the war. Moreover, they take the extradition of their bosses as opportunities to battle for the successions and takeovers by which the drug mafia reorganizes its power, and this affects the whole country. And to the extent that the Mexican government steps up the fight on its side, the state apparatus itself becomes an open as well as covert battlefield, the order policy forces a purge of its own institutions, the loyalty of state agents is tested by both sides and the functioning of state institutions is put in question.

As the fight goes on, not only do poverty and absolute misery increase, but so do everyday violence and terror on all sides. [14] Mexico suffers not merely from a weak political will for order which only needs to resolve to pull itself together and clamp down; each such undertaking reveals rather how weakened and assaulted this sovereign really is. The attempt to consolidate state power by force points again to the basic contradiction: this state power with its reason of state has made itself dependent on external wealth and external power, but through this dependence it has not become stronger or materially promoted, but ever weaker.

In the wake of the “escalation of the situation,” the consensus grows among Mexico’s national elite that the state must proceed with even more determination and more of its own disciplinary force to get the spiralling violence under control. In August 2008, groups from the government, judiciary, and business, organizations of “civil society,” and representatives of the mass media called for a “national security summit” on the necessity of saving the nation and agreeing on a “pact against crime.” [15] Hundreds of thousands united against the “excessive violence” with the battle cry “Illuminate Mexico!” and called on the politicians “to act,” at last, in the streets. Even the party of López Obrador, the bitter opponent of Calderón in the 2007 presidential election, helped pass the government’s program with a vast majority. [16] The state’s declaration of war on the spiralling violence in the country thus promoted the widespread desire for a functioning state monopoly on violence and what the President had not managed to bring about since the beginning of his term when he called for the nation to get behind the government in the “hour of national emergency”: unity between the government and the opposition in the need to mobilize more state power. On the other hand, the bipartisan effort’s lack of success in getting rid of the “violence” ensured that there is no end to public criticism of the government for failing in its promise to finally restore order.

The criticism of the USA, however, is far weightier, and it is not at all satisfied by the new cooperation. The American government views the Mexican state’s inability to deal with the negative consequences of being an appendage of the USA as the responsible people in Mexico still not doing the job that Washington holds them responsible for. If the Calderón government’s fight against “narcoterrorism” was turned into a big test for the Mexican state and social life became a violent chaos, the American view is that the Mexican political system failed once again. America’s ambassador to Mexico made it clear that Calderón is surely taking the right path in principle, but has to resolve to go much further and take the matter as seriously as America demands:

“Mexico finds itself in a struggle against the drug cartels, one which it can not afford to lose ... Calderón has shown that Mexico did not flinch, and the control of its streets are not left to the criminals.” (El País, May 23, 2008) “He has to – and will – maintain pressure on the cartels, but we are not naive: there will be more violence, more blood, yes – the situation will get worse before it gets better. That is the nature of the struggle.” (Seattle Times, January 8, 2009)

Critical voices increased again, casting doubt on the will and competence of the Mexican government to properly “crack down.”

“The state must aim not only at the armed arm of the cartels and their leaders, but must also destroy the financial networks and stop the corruption in politics, the judiciary and police. But even here the government is doing too little.” (A government consultant, Handelsblatt, February 26, 2009)

As if Mexico’s government could put aside the “drug money” that “in some provinces is behind more than half the firms” and the annual yield of an “estimated 100 billion dollars” and prevent the dollar flows to and from the United States just like that; as if they must align their own calculations, only much more ruthlessly, to the American order; kindly enforce and guarantee an American security zone that is state-controlled, free of drug gangs, well-sorted and business-friendly, and then order, stability, and a functioning state power will be ensured. Meanwhile, the official agencies of the United States have “repeatedly spoken loud and clear of Mexico as a ‘failed state,’ large parts of the country are at the mercy of lawlessness – and where the state itself no longer has much to say.” (HB, March 2, 2009 ) The US Defense Department placed the Mexican government in a rank with Pakistan: “On the way to a failed state!” This is obviously not an admission that it has brought the Mexican regime with its special relation to the US to this level, but a recrimination of Mexico and a description of the negative status which the US world power might soon have to give this state if it does not soon turn things around for the better: the government does not have its country under control, fails to meet the American requirements for order, and therefore no longer deserves the world power’s respect. Praised as exemplary – even if a bit unequal – the ties with the NAFTA partner are officially redefined as a surveillance relation over a problem state which Washington, without faking respect, must impact with its means of power.

This is just a provocation for the Mexican President whose law and order program aimed at America’s recognition and support. So Calderón emphatically rejected Washington’s criticisms, which he as a power conscious politician saw as downgrading his rule: “The claim that Mexico is a ‘failed state’ is absolutely false. I have not lost a single part of the Mexican territory.” (Calderón, Washington Post, February 27, 2009)

Instead of a disparaging remark, he decided to request more support from the United States for the common cause:

“There is no one problem in Mexico, it is a common problem that the United States and Mexico have to tackle together ... We expect a clearer and more decisive response appropriate to the size of the problem.” (Interview, La Jornada, March 4, 2009) [17]

So the insulted President of Mexico tried to get the attention of the imperialist superpower and commit to the program of making progress with the help of the USA A nice challenge for the new “savior” of the American nation, Barack Obama, who was also Mexico’s hope for a better world:

“Felipe Calderón invited President Obama to raise bilateral relations to the level of a strategic alliance in order to solve common problems such as ensuring security and the fight against organized crime and the drug mafia.” Because to Calderón: “The more secure Mexico is, the more secure the US will be.”

Here the failing Latin American partner state’s urgent wish for more respect and support from the USA meets the criticism of the leading imperialist power which has long viewed Mexico and its government as an American security problem of the first order and has decided to treat is as such. If the new US President visited Calderón as the first head of state in Latin America and confirmed the US-Mexican partnership in the spirit of the “Mérida initiative,” then he retracted none of Washington’s discontent with the scathing balance sheet in the war on drugs. And if the new US Secretary of State, to public astonishment, “conceded” that the US also bears some responsibility for the trouble caused by the drug cartels and promised to do more about it in her own country, then she did not release Mexico from its responsibility – to the contrary: she stresses the importance of this struggle and Mexico’s role in the global political agenda of the USA Accordingly, Washington steps up not only its own military presence along the border with Mexico, but also American personnel and military assistance which should help Mexico’s efforts to properly achieve security and stability. [18]

So progresses the “success model Mexico.”


[1] The development of large Mexican oil fields in the 1970s, which suddenly increased revenue and raised the international creditworthiness of the state, were the initial starting point for the state’s political efforts to jumpstart a national economy fit for the world market with state loans and an economic policy of “import substitution.” The celebrated “Mexican miracle” of the 70s ended in a debt crisis in the early 80s. Mexico, like other Latin American countries, subsequently bid farewell to this national development program under the pressure of the relevant loan granters directed by the I.M.F. and the World Bank. With its turn away from “domestic development supported by foreign-trade restrictions” toward an economic policy of “growth outward” – in accord with the recommendation of the experts – the Mexican government moved resolutely toward free trade and opened itself up to foreign capital as the best way to national progress, relying on its special relation with the USA With the help of US capital and technology, new areas of production should be instituted, Mexico’s economic base broadened, and its export base diversified; with the conclusion of the NAFTA agreement – at least in the vision of former Mexican President Gortari – the “threshold to the first world” should finally be crossed.

[2] This term characterizes plants in Mexico that import raw materials and intermediate products, process them, and re-export them, which thus completely serve foreign capital.

[3] This applies not least to the oil business. Even before the annexation of Mexico to the NAFTA economic zone, the US had protected itself as a major supplier of oil and natural gas by constructing pipelines and contracting supplies with the national oil company of Mexico; in the course of privatization, oil refining then became a direct sphere of American business. Only oil production still stands under the auspices of the state’s PEMEX. Its foreign exchange earnings are always inadequate because in view of the notorious state budgetary emergencies it always plans to make the necessary substitute investments or develop new sources. So the various governments constantly move in the contradiction of, on the one hand, trying to mobilize private capital for the necessary investments and therefore also giving serious consideration to the full privatization of PEMEX, but on the other hand in no case want to give up national sovereignty and control over oil production.

[4] That the initial balance sheet of the NAFTA accession turned to be out worse than expected brought the withdrawal of that confidence and the crash of the peso to Mexico in 1994. Thanks to the intervention of the US Federal Reserve and an IMF credit of 50 billion dollars as well as an economic-political “shock treatment,” Mexico’s solvency was rescued, confidence by finance capital in Mexico’s “fundamentals” was aroused again and so speculation on the investment site was again set on course. Since then, Mexico's oil revenues are used primarily to service the accumulated billions in debt and to maintain Mexico’s creditworthiness.

[5] “Going global applies however only to a small minority of Mexican companies… According to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2003 dispensed approximately 82.5 billion US dollars of the export earnings of the 7000 companies registered in Mexico, the majority of which are subsidiaries of transnational corporations whose export trade consists in more than two thirds from transnational intra-industrial supplies.” (Focus Latin America, Mexico and NAFTA, 3/04) “The Maquila industry remains an enclave, which is only very slightly linked with other Mexican industries. The low level of interdependence has the consequence that original technologies are not (further) developed by Mexican companies. Only 1% of the supplied production parts are of Mexican origin… Since 2000 approx. 60% of the Maquila enterprises went to China. China displaced Mexico as the second largest trading partner of the USA. Both on the national and on the American market, Chinese goods displace Mexican.” (Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Mexico - Interim Balance after the Change of Power, 2003)

[6] One-third of Mexico's agricultural land is now used for poppy cultivation.

[7] As early as the mid 90s approximately 30 billion US dollars have annually flowed from the drug trade into the Mexican economy: “More and more US politicians and police officials from drug enforcement agencies openly state their suspicion that the financial support of the IMF did not lead Mexico's economy out of the peso crisis, but revenue from the drug business ... For most Mexican banks billions of dollars from the drug business has become a major source of credit financing. About 20 percent of all loans granted are financed mainly in this way, according to experts.” (, September 17, 1997).

[8] The most famous organization is the EZLN: an Indian guerrilla movement which highly symbolically began on the effective date of the NAFTA Treaty a struggle to improve the wretched living conditions with the modest means available to them and held on for a few years. Even if in 2000 they swore off the military struggle – no less highly symbolically – with a peace march to the official capital, today they still control a big area in the south of Mexico and administer it according to their own “indigenous” laws.

[9] “Now Calderón's Minister of Finance Augustin Carsten fears effects on the attractiveness of the investment location. The 2006 Report of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean on foreign investment shares this concern: 'Lack of security is an increasingly important factor and limits new foreign investments,' said CEPAL Chef José Luis Machinea at the launch of the report. This is not just a police issue, but affects the entire functioning of the state.” (Friedrich Ebert Foundation: Mexico's Struggle Against Organized Crime, 2007, p. 1-2). So it is again important to provide “security.” Calderón: “To the extent to which Mexico is progressing steadily with the establishment of safe conditions and values law higher than the interests of crime, I am sure that this factor more than any other will allow opportunities for new investment to explode in Mexico.” (January 26, 2007, “Calderón offers a peaceful Mexico,” www.

[10] US Secretary of State Shannon on November 16, 2007 before Congress as justification for the approval of American funding for the American-Mexican “Merida Initiative.”

[11] On the southern border of Mexico, the border posts have been technologically upgraded, border police have increased considerably and been reinforced by US GIs, as well as high security visas for citizens from Ecuador, Honduras and Brazil introduced. All over southern Mexico, the police and military presence has significantly expanded, all over the country police and military outposts have been reinforced; furthermore a “program for voluntary repatriation” has been completed in order to deport the striving masses in the US to their home towns before reaching the border again, the biometric data collection of individuals introduced and the presence of American military in Mexican airports agreed to. Success is seen in the complaints of the southern neighbors: “Mexico has its transformed its entire territory into a border for us. The border of the USA begins in Chiapas, and ends at the Rio Bravo, which means that the actual border no longer represents the United States of America, but the United States of Mexico.” (A Nicaraguan Minister, El Heraldo, March 7, 2005). Calderón continued the policy of his predecessors in the fight against guerrillas. The relevant organizations are under constant military observation and repeatedly skirmish with the Mexican power apparatus, even if – like the EZLN “Zapatistas” – they are no longer active as combatants, but rather as socially-oriented alternative local authorities.

[12] “The Merida Initiative is the result of a crisis situation. This crisis situation gives us the strategic opportunity to reshape our security cooperation and to expand the dialogue with our partners on the difficult task of enforcing security and justice. The Merida Initiative provides us a platform to enhance this partnership and to cooperate with our immediate neighbors in the hemisphere more effectively in combating a threat that affects us all.” (DT Johnson, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, in a Congressional hearing, March 18, 2009)

[13] So Calderón is also careful to satisfy the anti-American tinged national pride of his own public. He counters the accusation that his program yields to American paternalism with regular public objections that he forbids any interference from the United States. In particular, he advertises the security pact with the USA by contrasting it to others of the same type such as “Plan Columbia” which are nationally unworthy of Mexico and put no American troops on Mexican soil.

[14] Meanwhile, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, a new “super-cartel” has formed which has more economic resources and power. The conflicts in Mexico simultaneously affect other Central American countries, especially Guatemala, which until now served the drug cartels as a transit country and now as a new evasion area. Its President complains: “They have the entire province of Huehuetenango near the border with Mexico under their control, but they are also in the regions of Alta Verapaz, in Quiché, in the Petén, and even on the Caribbean coast. They want to seize all of Guatemala ... If we do nothing, organized crime from Mexico has in two years taken the capital of Guatemala City.” The complaint does not go unheard. The “Merida Initiative” also provides Central America and the Caribbean a few million dollars and military aid.

[15] The collective objectives are: reform of the criminal justice system with harsher punishments, especially for kidnappers and hostage takers, installation of new high-security prisons, the appointment of specialized judges, a more effective fight against money laundering, all “monitored” by civil society which checks the effectiveness of these measures. In addition, the call increases in politics and in public for the reintroduction of the death penalty.

[16] The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the opposition, is meanwhile divided: the majority of representatives of the PRD work on legislative initiatives which should make the fight against “organized crime” more effective and also signal their agreement on the main point of contention between the government and the opposition, the privatization of the state oil company PEMEX, but not without putting itself on stage as a “social corrective.” Obrador, however, rails against the “false regime” and the “illegitimate president,” but also offers to support the internal security policy of the government out of national responsibility – under the condition that Calderón withdraws plans to privatize the state oil company PEMEX.

[17] To the reproach from Washington that the Mexican government would not destroy the financial network of criminal drug gangs, Calderón replied with the retort that the US government on its part does not turn against, or at least does not do so effectively, the system of money laundering ultimately constructed in the USA – as Mexico’s bank regulators are to distinguish illegal transfers from legal bank account movements. And anyway: “I fight the corruption in the Mexican authorities and risk everything to clean up here. But I believe a good cleansing is needed on the other side of the border also.” (Calderón, Focus, February 27, 2009)

[18] “In the Mexican, capital a command center is created where the FBI and the US anti-drug unit DEA are to be represented.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, April 16, 2009)